Working to maintain credibility against an onslaught of misinformation from adversaries is something service members need to stay focused on full time, said the U.S. military's highest-ranking enlisted service member.
"[For] our enemies, their No. 1 task right now in this information environment is nothing more than to chip away at the fabric of our nation — specifically our pride, our nationalism and our loyalty to institutions," Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón Colón-López said Feb. 24.
Misinformation campaigns and false flag efforts will continue, he said. From the most junior service member up, strong individual ethics will be central to ensuring the U.S. military maintains credibility, he told the Air Force Academy’s National Character & Leadership Symposium during a virtual presentation.
"Because of our military might, the enemy is looking for ways around it to be able to best a superpower that we call the United States of America," Colón-López said. "And they're doing it at a rapid pace. And that is really important for us to understand because our credibility can easily dwindle away if we have one misstep on the way that we conduct ourselves."
Going forward, service members — the human component of combat operations — will require critical thinking skills, knowledge and intellect, Colón-López said
"This starts with credible leaders that are built on those three things that I've talked about: character, competence and commitment," he said. "Character is nothing more than who you are, you were growing up, the values that your family gave you, and the values that you gained once enlisted in service by [the] sworn oath that we spoke about."
Competence, he told cadets, is dependent on commitment to training and learning what was taught.
"[And] commitment — that is, your loyalty and your belief in the system and belief in our way of life — to make sure that you fight for one thing only, and that is the United States of America," he said. "And make sure that that banner flies proudly for the rest of our days and future generations. That takes something special -- someone that is willing to sacrifice."
Cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are not yet military officers — but they will be one day. And while those cadets are meant to be focused on the educational material their instructors put before them, events in Europe might now be distracting them from their studies.
What cadets can do now if they want to contribute to what's going on in Europe, or to prepare for what contributions they might be asked to make once they graduate, is something akin to what they've been doing since they entered the academy on their first day — and that is to study, Colón-López said.
"The best thing that every single one of you in the audience can do is start studying what's happening in the environment right now, the decisions that your key leaders are making in this conflict now, [and] the power that has been employed by our partners and allies," he said. "Then you start studying that national defense strategy, that national military strategy and understand the instruments of power that the United States has to bear."
Most importantly, he said, cadets should familiarize themselves with the limits of U.S. military power.
"War is not always the answer. You have to employ diplomatic means, information means, and economic means ... across the board in order to go ahead and thrive as a superpower," he said. "The best thing that you can be doing right now is just learning from what is going on. Pay close attention to the key decisions that your top leaders are making, from the president on down."